Part 1: Language in the Culture War—Tolerance

Bull Horn

Recently there was a vigorous stream of dialogue in the comment sections of some recent posts (here and here), as well as conversations on my most recent Live Chat regarding language within the culture war between conservatives and the GLBT community (and how that language is used). As one of the commenter’s suggested in a post on his own blog, it’s good to understand and good to be understood. In building on that thought I want to talk about some of what I see as the key lingual fighting points that are not only misunderstood and misrepresented between communities, but also have taken on new cultural meanings that are at the core of the disconnect.

Four words come to mind right away:

Tolerance. Reconciliation. Affirming. Homophobia.

In my opinion these four words make up the roots, stem and branches in the tree of separation. I believe so strongly that both communities (gay and straight) need to start reclaiming language if anything is to move forward from our current interactions! Here are my thoughts on reclaiming language … within my own life, it started with the reclaiming of the word LOVE, and it’s time to build on this first wave of the Movement.


The word ‘tolerance’ has become one of those ugly, politically charged words that bring on a new (and incorrect) cultural understanding of the word’s original intent in definition and usage.

The culture war definition of Tolerance: If you don’t agree with me being _________ (fill in either GLBT or conservative Christian), or anything that comes with it, you’re ___________ (fill in either homophobic or deceived liberal). Therefore you’re wrong and need to change because you’re not tolerant.

That is not tolerance! That is a backhanded manipulation through cultural pressure.

My bridge building definition of Tolerance: A freedom to unconditionally love while still holding on to your belief system.

Tolerance is not pacifying someone else by ‘putting up with them’ – “them” being defined as belief system, life actions and lived experiences. True tolerance, bridge building tolerance, is to incarnationally listen and learn in the middle of places where you’re the extreme minority as you continue to go back week after week, month after month, year after year—wrestling with uncomfortable and very, very difficult topics rooted in extreme differences that bring out the most passion in people. And it is always done face to face. The only thing that can keep us learning what tolerance is really all about is a commitment to purposefully form an intentional broken community to humbly, and mutually understand each others felt-needs and filtration systems in a personal way through intimate relationship with the other [that is traditionally held as] “opposition.” In the end, the goal of a bridge building tolerance is to not necessarily agree (but that doesn’t mean agreement can’t happen), but rather contextually putting a personal life experience to the spiritual, emotional and social grappling’s of another human being’s perspective and experience. 

Part 2 will be on Reconciliation, Part 3 on Affirming and Part 4 on Homophobia. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

Much love.

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  • Paul Henry

    "True tolerance" is not only to "incarnationally listen and learn in the middle of places where you’re the extreme minority"; but to also – when you are in the "majority" to listen humbly to those who would be the "extreme minority". In so doing you would honor that person's God-given humanity.

  • Audrey

    Tolerance, reconciliation, affirming, homophobia….

    There may be a culture war out in the media, but in daily life, it's not that apparent.

    As for the four words above, I think you have to distinguish between systems and individual people. Look at South Africa before and after the end of apartheid, for example. You could have used those four words under apartheid, but that system of oppression would still be there affecting individuals.

    So we have to address what is happening systemically first, before we can even get to individual behavior. We live under a system of sexism and male supremacy. Those with the power deny this naturally, and those on the receiving end of it are quite aware of this. Men have learned to "tolerate" women in the work place because they were forced to by a court decree. So they won't get to the reconciliation or affirming part for quite sometime.

    The church and society is structured to affirm certain relationships and reject others. This is built into the legal system, and laws change, surprisingly, so do the social attitudes. Social mores go with laws, and social pressure to change becomes the new "normality." On the racial front, we have a black president. But on the gender front, it is still ok to make sexist remarks about a presidential candidate and get away with it.

    Tolerance is not a word I am all that interested in. Again, it doesn't deal with the underlying power imbalance in the first place, and in the second it actually is condescending. I don't hang around with "tolerance" people, I don't waste my time with this. If they feel they must "tolerate me" then I don't belong in that group.

    Homophobia is a complex word. I like more direct words like hatred. Hatred directed at lesbian and gay people, hate words, just plain hate.

    Underlying this hate is self-hatred. I don't often encounter women who have a great fear of gay men, for example. Homophobia is something more directly expressed by straight men, who feel threatened by other men.

    It's actually male on male violence, and the source of this is that straight men hate the idea of being treated as sex objects by gay men. They don't like to be "treated" like women. It is the hatred of femaleness that underlies homophobia. The two systems are connected.

    Reconciliation would be about a change in power structure itself. How do you reconcile with a king, when you need an America revolution to get rid of the king in the first place?

    I believe so-called 'reconciliation" will actually be generational. The previous generation wasn't exposed early enough to the people and ideas that are a new world. It's why the older you are the more homophobic you are. Not because you are inherently worse than a 20 year old, but only because the laws of that time put gay people in jail if they came out. If you could lose your job for coming out, chances are you developed a clever strategy for hiding your gayness. It's why, even to this day, we have our own bars and clubs, because we find it exhausting to be around straight people.

    And then the word love. I don't believe men when they use this word at all. To me, it is a kind of deception, since I don't see men capable of love if they advocate a power imbalance between men and women to begin with.

    For lesbians, straight men exist, but they are hardly loving.

    Systems of power direct human activity. There is no such thing as tolerance when the law erases certain types of relationships and honors others. Individual attitudes don't change the law; wte people could be "tolerant" of blacks, but not end apartheid. Only the minority, rising up first, and gaining international allies changes things, and even then, you still have rape, you still have men believing the actually own women. That didn't change with the end of apartheid.

    As for homophobia, once apartheid ended, the new South African constitution actually gave gays and lesbians rights. This is one of the most modern constitutions written, so gays and lesbians became a part of this document.

    The church as a whole does a terrible job with systems. It believes individual people are sinful, but it doesn't examine the systems of power that are sin in my opinion. Original sin in my opinion is male supremacy, and the subjugation of women. And I have yet to see men really come to terms with this. Women have to sue men, march in the streets or have them jailed. Power is never granted, it is always taken, and we can't get to any of the fancier terms unless we acknowlege who writes the rules, and what fuels a system.

  • Audrey

    P.S. Loved the picture to illustrate this article. It's a stereotypical image I have of straight men!

  • Courtney J White

    Once again I love your thoughts on this very important issue….I sooo agree that once we can learn to understand that "tolerance" has absolutely nothing to do with "relaxing our convictions" the world will be a lot better off…..God has finally opened my eyes to this truth…..Tolerance is not about condoning or agreeing with people on every issue but rather about loving others where they are and for who they are and building bridges with them based on the things you share in common. Based on my beliefs as an Evangelical Christian, I don't know how to completely reconcile all of my feelings on the GLBT/ Evangelical issues that exist in our society but I do know this……at this point in my life, I'm far more interested in drawing people to me because I can show a mutual love and respect for them based on our "sameness" rather than repelling them by meeting them with only a closed heart and mind……

  • Hi Audrey,

    In response to your final question: ("Do gays & lesbians really want to be in a church to begin with?")

    Of course, anytime you're speaking about a people group, generalizations are usually not helpful. It's certainly not accurate to say the LGBT people want to be able to fellowship in conservative churches, as a rule. But also untrue would be the statement that no LGBT people have that desire.

    In my context (I'm a celibate, gay, white guy working with a church and members of the gay community in San Diego), I do find gays & lesbians who have that strong desire (and in some cases, even hope) to be able to fully participate in the types of church congregations they may have grown up in, or that their parents are a part of, etc. For at least a few, the open & affirming churches don't seem to align with their personal spiritual goals. I'm having a hard time nailing down exactly why that is; I can only speak for myself at this point.

    For me, I find that because I grew up in a very conservative church (our family's life actually revolved around the activities of our church family), I know it well – it's familiar. I find it harder to navigate the social systems and ideology of an open & affirming group than I do any run-of-the-mill traditional church. So, on some level, it's a personal comfort choice, which may or may not be great motivation – I'm sure that's up for debate. But of course, the personal comfort is challenged by the constructs of conservative or traditional Christians around the issue of homosexuality.

    So it seems, to me, many of the gay & lesbian people who would prefer to find solace in a traditional faith community, even if it's predominately straight, pursue other options because they sense or have experienced personally that they can't fully participate in those churches. That's at least where I've been in my life, and why I think Andy's bridge-building work is so essential.

    You're right, straight Christians shouldn't be allowed to go "unchecked" on the issue, with only their fellow like-minded straight sisters & brothers around them to perpetually back-slap their convictions on who LGBT people are and why we're immoral enemies of God. But I think that takes brave people on both sides – folks like Andy, of course – but also brave LGBT people to commit to showing the conservative straight people in our spiritual family who we really are. I read awhile back about a story – I can't remember the details very well, or where I read it – may have even been on this blog. Anyway, it was about, I think, gay & lesbian Catholics who were so committed to the tradition of their faith that they continued to participate in their congregations, making the personal sacrifice of not being with accepting, like-minded people, because they were so connected to God through their community of faith. I thought that was so beautiful – that type of devotion to God over the construct of man (and woman).

    And the potential outcome is also beautiful – that Christians with only one context for understanding LGBT people (a traditional or conservative understanding) are given the opportunity to get to know gays & lesbians on our own terms, with the chance to change how Christians perceive this "gay lifestyle" they reference so often. To not merely 'tolerate,' but strip away their preconceptions, fears, misgivings, and prejudices allowing for actual relationship to develop.

    I just believe there's something to be said for the trailblazing and sacrificial efforts of some bringing about a paradigm shift for many. And there's a grain of salt in that word, sacrificial, because, as I'm sure Andy would say, his sacrificial efforts of diving headlong into the gay community have led to something far more fulfilling than he might have ever imagined. Similarly, for me, I've discovered that committing to peaceable community with other Christians where I strive to live by unconditional love & forgiveness, and even making some other "sacrifices" along the way (the decision to be celibate, for instance), has yielded fulfilling relationships and a purpose in life I hadn't dreamed possible before.

  • Jack

    A few thoughts…so bear with me…(and yes I am a bear he! he!)

    1. I keep hearing how there are these large groups of gays and lesbians who are worshipping in conservative congregations? My question is this, do the people in these congregations know they are gay or lesbian? Are they comfortable with them being out and living in the full life of their congregation?

    Maybe I am living under a rock but honestly, I run in a lot of gay and christian circles here and have lived all over the country and I just don't hear a lot if this. I DO hear about gays and lesbians attending and active in MCC, UCC congregations as well as a few others but not to the extent that I read about it in some of these blogs.

    2. Which leads me to my next point which is this and I know I sound like a broken record but why would a GLBT person or couple/family want to be a member of conservative congregation? I can understand if they grew up in that type of setting because it fits their theology and worship tastes more.

    A liberal UCC or Episcopal Church might seem to foreign to them. BUT, if they are out as a GLBT person, I highly doubt that the church leadership would allow that person to serve in ANY leadership role in the church including teaching sunday school, being a deacon, etc. I cannot imagine any GLBT person that would agree something like that.

    It's so easy to talk about how conservative congregations should open their hearts and minds to GLBT folks and allow them in their churches to connect with GOD but reality paints a different picture especially when you tell a GLBT person that they are unrepentant sinful persons and cannot serve God in leadership roles in the church? Does ANYONE see how this would be so damaging to a GLBT person?

    guess this doesn't apply to "SSA" people who are celibate since they are not technically "sinning" but only being gay. But honestly, I can imagine there are still several more churches that would not even allow SSA celibate people to service in church leadership positions for simply admitting they are GLBT.

    So I guess this leads me back to my original statement that I made in previous blogs posts, why would a GLBT person want to attend/join/worship in a Conservative Congregation? I know I don't and could never do so since my theology is very liberal and I am a gay partnered man.

    3. We talk a lot of bridge building here and ending the cultural war. My question is this : What would an end to a cultural war look like? I have heard some thoughts as to how conservative christians might react but what would GLBT folks be asked to "surrender" I would be interested to hear other opinions? As GLBT person I cannot imagine there really isnt anything I would be willing to give up to grant the rights that I deserve as a citizen of the USA.

    Thoughts?!? 🙂

  • Jack – Thanks for your well thought out points once again! Two things:

    1. Reality does tell a different story, and as we have all learned the hard way, reality speaks infinitely louder than any amount of words or even open doors because it’s about the people inside those doors. It is those people inside the doors are what I’m targeting.

    2. Your question of ‘why would a GLBT want to attend a conservative congregation?’ Although I can’t directly speak for any GLBT person, I do know what a few of them have recently told me (one of the main reasons for these last few posts about conservative churches). In a series of emails with a group of gay Christian men that I know regarding this exact question, one of them recently wrote:

    “I am tired of going to a UCC or MCC or UMC or ELCA because I am told to go there because I am a gay Christian. My ideal church environment doesn’t align with those more liturgical, ‘high church’ styles. I’m an evangelical. I consider myself conservative (except that I’m gay and no one else looks at me as conservative). I want to go to a conservative church but don’t feel that I ever could, even if they opened their doors to me, because of the people. I’m not under any expectation they will change what they believe, and that is ok for me, because I’m not changing what I believe. I’m not looking to be in leadership. I’m just looking to worship.”

    Audrey – I know you have a lot to say, but please keep your comments to a succinct point. That would greatly help out everyone reading and participating in the dialogue. As for your comment: "I think blogs like this can be helpful, and even straight men can learn advanced concepts now and then. Hey, and it’s a market niche of evangelical people… they might get more speaking assignments in the crowded field of gay bashers, that sort of thing." I won't allow any more comments like that to be posted – they will be deleted. Everyone is respecting you, especially myself, so please do the same.

  • Matthew – Your words are humbling. Thank you for that last paragraph as well.

  • I'm going to do my level best to stick with the subject of tolerance. Where I come from, it means "to live and let live".

    I needn't agree with another's choices; nor they mine. I've never interpreted tolerance to mean that I have to support something with a vote of endorsement that may even include an actual ballot for something I might personally consider to be wrong or hurtful (i.e, same sex marriage, abortion, etc.).

    Nor do I see tolerance as being a vehicle for force-feeding militant views on another, regardless of who holds the view and is donig the feeding – believer or non-believer, straight or homesexual. The first plank in the newly built bridge would absolutely have to be mutual respect and courtesy. Without both, I seriously doubt any real bridge-building could or would take place – tolerance or no.

    This has been such a good thing for me … this discussion. I'm way outside my comfort zone and, I don't mind telling you, I feel an awful lot like Bill Murray in "What About Bob" lashed to a ship's mast and shouting: I'm sailing, I'm sailing! (with fish Gil in jar hung around his neck).

    It's good to be vulnerable.



  • Audrey

    Hi Matthew,

    Yes, our community did have an objective to create culture, and begin new things. Again, there are a couple of lesbian and gay archetypal forces out there: assimilationists and liberationists. I'm not about assimilation, it holds no interest to me. I believe, however, in integration, a much more powerful stance in the world.

  • Audrey

    P.S. I meant integration as a counterpoint to assimilation.

  • Audrey

    Yes, Kathleen, an unvarnished lesbian or gay perspective to a conservative christian person can be very uncomfortable. Discomfort is the beginning of actually seeing something non-normative.

  • Jon Trouten

    Love the bullhorn image, Andrew. It cracks me up! 🙂

  • Audry – I hate to break it to you, but these words (and ‘systems’ as you so correctly mentioned) are extremely important in everyday life. Churches and GLBT people interacting with churches and the Christian community at large (whether liberal or conservative) at some level (most levels very involved) have to directly deal with navigating these hot-button constructs, and the terrain and baggage that comes with them. And there is a lot of baggage. We have lost any grasp of what it means to live within such a dichotomy, and that reclamation process must begin with not only language, but the proper application of said politically charged words. The culture war/disconnect/schism/whatever you want to call it, at a baseline level stems directly from these 4 words and how they’re used in wrongly treating each other. If the Movement gets the ‘base’ right, the rest will more easily flow outward.

  • Heidi


    As usual you capture my sentiments perfectly. The work you are doing is amazing. My heart sings with joy at your definition of tolerance: A freedom to unconditionally love while still holding on to your belief system. Praise the Lord…you get it and are teaching others to do the same! I can't wait to hear your thoughts on the other words as well. You are a front-runner in this battle and will get bashing and discouragement as a result. Don't let it deter you! The LGBT community and straight allies everywhere are desperate to hear this message!

  • Audrey

    I actually believe that people don’t have as much control over their lives as they’d like to think. It is useful to look at a system, see how it may have changed over time, and then evaluate how people change as systems change.

    If the majority can convince the minority that it is crazy, or sinful, or “born” into servitude, then that majority will continue to rule and control. If the minority becomes “conscious” of its situation, then a movement is born.
    When the slaves awaken, or when the Wizard of Oz is exposed behind his little curtain… a great metaphor for male supremacy by the way. No wonder gays and lesbians love this story, then becomes a kind of collective discovery. This flame of discovery or recognition inspires and awakens people.

    The majority creates a mythology of human relationships, but minorities or small groups coming together and speaking the truth of real life, breaks out of this pattern. Thus, consciousness is born.

    It’s why police raid places and arrest people. If you break up the group, you break up the budding consciousness.

    I’m at the point now, where I actually consider myself a post-insitutional christian. I don’t belong in any church at all anymore, because it doesn’t really address the issues I care about the most. But I feel that I am on my own, or studying on my own. The groups I feel most connected to are women’s groups of all kinds, and in these small groups, I have an authentic feeling that we are dealing with the real, the true, and we struggle honestly within these small contexts.

    I’m becoming less and less tribal in some respects, and more about the discovery of individuals. Within the women’s groups I now encounter are straight women, lesbians, black women, Jewish women, white conservative women. We are together sharing our life challenges and listening, really listening the way only women know how to do this. In this world, you are among equals, you are not in a hierarchy, and you can leave the cold building behind, except perhaps on Christmas or Easter.

    What I find lovely about churches is their museum quality. They speak to ancient music, or the beauty of stained glass on a late afternoon day.

    And gay and lesbian culture itself becames creative. It is one of the most creative spiritual communities in the world now, dynamic, thoughtful and insightful. This again, is outside the institutions, it goes beyond those things.

    We need to be very careful in how we deal with those institutions that hated us so much or promoted god as an instrument of social control.

    Do gays and lesbians really want to be in a church to begin with? Or is it useful for some gays to go there, if nothing else, to not leave the dangerous straight people unchecked? 🙂

  • Mike Jordan

    I want to thanK you Andy for everything you have poured your heart, soul and mind into, in effort to bring to light both glbt and straight issues that target our church and society. Thank you and may God richly bless you.

  • Audrey

    Hi Mathew, Thanks for the explanation of why people stay in the churches they do. This was an issue within MCC, with a lot of people coming from different christian traditions. I think this was less of an issue for me, because my Dad is Jewish and my Mom is Catholic, so I just assumed that all families had different faiths, just as my Mom is a democrat and my Dad is a republican. We just grew up with a lot more variety and curiosity.

    My partner got baptised a christian while we were living abroad, so that added another factor.

    What I actually loved about the lesbian and gay community, is people weren’t stuck in things just because they were born there. You’ll find a higher degree of mobility and diversity of spiritual stuff within lesbian and gay worlds than in faith traditions where everyone grew up the same.

    That said, my Mom seemed to have an instinct for diversity because she pointedly said she wanted all her children to go to public schools and not catholic ones, because again, she didn’t want us to have such a narrow education.

    This expansive quality made it a lot easier to travel around, and not feel like I only belonged in one place or one type of institution. It simply was a lot less important to me. What I really do love now is lesbian feminist space, and all the wonderful things we as lesbian feminists are. This doesn’t fit anywhere within the larger world, but lesbian feminism is my sacred text, and it is how I view the world.
    We are living in a more conservative age, and I notice a lot of young gay people are wedded to traditions. Gays in the military and gay marriage are essentially highly conservative positions within gayness itself. I don’t feel as attached to those issues as a lesbian than I do to an ethical system based on lesbian feminist centrality. So I’m not all that interested in “fitting in” as much as developing a fully powerful self within lesbian feminism.

    Young people are bored with the old dialogues, and might be more able to build new bridges, because the world we live in today is far less conformist, far less confining, and far less rigid. At least in major America cities.

    As a lesbian, I don’t believe in the concept of sacrifice, which traditionally women get stuck with. I did notice when I first went to an MCC church one amazing thing: the men made the coffee and cakes for coffee hour, the women never went into the kitchen.

    Now I’m at a women’s club where male butlers do all this work. So I am fine in a world where men serve and women are served. My lesbian friends often laugh at this, but hey it’s true.

    Looking back at the origins of the gay and lesbian movement itself, it was simply a part of the larger movements for justice and equality to begin with.
    Churches I think often got stuck being the places that never changed, and where people who couldn’t take too much change holed up.

    Each person has a different comfort level with change and/or diversity. The 10% rule holds…if it’s more than 10% new people freak out. Lesbian and gay life is not more than 10% new anymore. Twenty years ago it was. I may add that lesbian and gay life today is far less creative and visionary than it once was, so even we are becoming dull.

    Each one of us can stand our ground to bring about change. I usually am the first out lesbian in corporate settings, for example. Or I might be the first out lesbian in women’s organizations in general. It’s a role I know how to fill, I know how to get around straight white men, I know how to make friends and allies quickly, and I am very good at outwitting potential enemies. You get really good at this, because the enemies are predictable and do the same things in the same way every time.

    So there may be many lesbians and gays that actually will return to the churches of their youth, and you will have many straight people who now show up at same sex marriage demonstrations. You even have the mothers of lesbians and gays become national activists like Matthew Shepard’s mother and Ellen’s mother, for example. Can’t think of any fathers in this role, but there may be a few out there.

    And each of us is at a different level of consciousness, and there is a measureable scale to this. Those of us who have been activists for more than 25 years have a certain viewpoint. We’re not as forgiving or tolerant of abuse coming our way. I know I have a lot less patience today then I did back then. I don’t tolerate sexism in any form, and will speak up continuously against its every word and every deed. I know guys here avoid even dealing with my challenges, but I will issue them nonstop because sexism is ever present, and gay doesn’t = male.

    The thing that made homophobia so evil, was that it forced peope to hide their very selves in order to deal with the world. A black person can’t hide, a lesbian easily can, that is if you are a gender conforming lesbian. If you are a non-gender conforming lesbian, then other gender conforming lesbians get to witness our world, and homophobia is much more in my face. My partner and I get treated very differently because of this dynamic.
    Maybe it might be akin slightly to light and dark skinned black people.

    Are there more conformist assimilationist lesbians and gays out there? Most certainly. Are they duller to be around, yes, I’d say that was the case often. Is there a danger to being close to a straight culture that is conservative and not willing to allow lesbian and gay life to flourish as a people? Yes, we’ll lose our culture if we don’t maintain our own institutions, organizations, churches and groups.

    Do we want to immiate the boring constructs of hetero life? Don’t think so, because lesbian culture is delightfully eccentric, and different and very good at polemic, critique and parody. Our philosophers and thinkers often a very different worldview, again, outside patriachal assumptions.

    You’d have to say that given christianity’s track record with women, we had better be very weary of it indeed. A male savior is a limiting belief, but a savior who will return in female form to judge patriarchy is mighty appealing.

    We’ll see what happens.

  • Audrey

    Hi Jack,

    Loved the “bear” joke! I know that closeted gay men attend conservative churches, because they told me so themselves. I have several gay male catholic friends who are leaders in their local church, eucharistic ministers etc., even though the church doesn’t condon non-celibate gay life. Those guys report they are out, and get mixed reception. I find most of these men rather damaged and rather uncle Tomish gay style. Most are older (over 60) had married women, and many had had children before they came out.

    MCC has a wide variety of worship styles, and some of the MCC churches are very evangelical and bible based. Some are very liberal in terms of worship style. The founder, Troy Perry, is evangelical so that explains this a bit.

    I’ve never met a gay person who says he is attending at conservative straight evangelical church as an out gay man, however. Only Mel White, founder of Soul Force, is a member of Jerry Falwell’s church, and he does this to witness to gay presence, and to record what is going on–keep an eye on the homophobes kind of thing. I think he felt a great deal of guilt for his closeted aiding and abetting of the homophobes back when Moral Majority was just getting off the ground in 1980 or so. He was a scared self-hating gay man in a fake marriage. He tried everything to be straight, and failed. A lot of us really question an ex-NAZI running a synogogue type of person. Just vivid for example purposes here.

    The thing is, all churches were pretty mean to lesbians and gays until recently. I know of many lesbian clergy who were kicked out of their pastor jobs or church jobs once they came out, for example. But, we have to realize that liberal churches have changed a bit, mainly because we showed up and made them change. We also got a lot more straight allies in the past 20 years or so. And also, the bottom line of liberal is well liberal. A liberal person will support lesbian and gay rights as a matter of course, George Bush voters won’t.

    Conservative churches by and large are anti-feminist and anti-women’s right to choose. They campaign against women’s progress, preach women as servants to men, and try to get women to go along with this, as a way to keep their husbands from running out of the marriage. Be submissive and the guy will stay sort of thing. Heck, gay men only get into the submissive things at the BDSM club 🙂 (that was a joke).

    A conservative theology will undermine women, will undermine gays and lesbians, and will try to get gays to be celibate. Conservative bible people are really the ones who continue to fuel that anti-lesbian and gay civil rights movement to begin with and show no real signs of changing. Their support of Yes on 8 in California was instrumental in its passage. Those churches preached hate from their pulpits, violated tax codes, and organized yes on 8 volunteers going house to house. They raised millions of dollars to pass anti-gay marriage in CA.

    The main reason most European countries have gays in the military is because those countries don’t have a conservative religious right wing controlling the republican party. Gay marriage is legal in Denmark and a lot of other European countries including Spain. Again, the reason the US lags is because of right wing christians who actually believe that the bible condemns gay people in partnerships. They actaully believe this and use it as an excuse to deny us civil liberties in a supposedly secular country.

    I think blogs like this can be helpful, and even straight men can learn advanced concepts now and then. Hey, and it’s a market niche of evangelical people… they might get more speaking assignments in the crowded field of gay bashers, that sort of thing.

    Bottom line, all evangelicals think the bible condemns gay people, and they believe that gays and lesbians are automatically sinners if we have partners or even if we have sex. Sex outside of marriage as defined by straights is a sin. These churches have really damaged our people and terrorized them for generations. This is not a pretty picture, no matter how the kids coming up today might see it. Fundamentalism is about as close to fascism and mind control as you can get. It is no accident that we are dealing with Islamic fundamentalists more and more as christian fundamentalists came to power in the US. They were made for each other actually.

    You can have dialogues with people, but you have to know what their theology really is all about. I don’t believe that the bible is inerrant, nor do I believe all the stories in it. They are clearly fables from a time before science or even gayness was understood scientifically. They were from a time when women were considered property, and merely the means to “bear” men’s heirs. Women were stoned for being in adultery, and this may be one reason Mary came up with the clever idea that the holy spirit caused her pregnancy, among other things. If she had admitted to having sex before she was married, she would have been stoned to death. Think about it.

    The thing that concerns me, is how is it that so many Americans are caught up in this toxic fundamentalism that is pretty much anti- so much that has made America great? We are great because of separation of church and state, not because we bash bibles over people’s heads. This point about how American democracy got rid of king, got rid of the divine right of kings and created a new nation is lost on them entirely.

    A straight person knows nothing about how a lesbian or gay man feels inwardly, and can have no idea the psychological damage of saying god hates fags, god hates queers, if you have gay sex you are damned. This is still going on, and no matter how these guys sugar coat it, that is the bottom line of what Focus on the Family and other groups are doing out there.

    So no, I’ve met no gay people going to these churches who are out of the closet. I’ve met gay men who go to liberal or don’t ask don’t tell type catholic chruches. Gay men are very much clergy in churches that demand celibacy, and have been for centuries.

    I can talk to religious conservatives all the time. Hey, like most people they are nice in a social sort of way. They’ll live and let live largely because most people are nice to your face. But that’s about as far as it goes.
    Families have a don’t ask don’t tall about their sons a lot of time, an open secret sort of thing, but again that is not gay affirming or gay liberating, that is denial of that person’s personhood.

    Culture wars happen for a reason, people make money, and get ahead in a culture war. Gay activists get ahead, there’s money in it, there’s jobs in it, there’s a whole speakers circuit in it. Book publishing, TV deals. It is about getting ahead and making a name for yourself. Each side has conferences up the wazoo, but what does this do for the average lesbian and gay person attempting to have a highly authentic connection to god, buddha, kali or the goddess? Even the Dalai Lama hides the true nature of Tibetan Buddhism because he is fundraising in liberal hollywood. I’m not being snide here, this really happens.

    Dialogue is a tactic liberals used for years to waste our resources and hold out this little carrot of insincereity. We know the drill, we know the tactics, and I’m not really fooled by the smoke and mirrors. So conservatives are pretty much stuck in their sex in and of itself is sin mentality. Sex for procreation only is something men came up with I’m sure.

    It’s kind of like being a capitalist in a communist country. And if conservatives believe the bible literally, then they will continue to believe that gays have no place in marriages, or in sexual relationships period.
    They might pretend, but they would reject free wheeling gay male sexuality, and serial monogamy which is very common with lesbians. They would want to turn us into carbon copies of themselves.

    For gays who might like life in the suburbs with kids, a conservative church might be attractive. But what would happen to their child? And what if little Johnny or little Jane came home from Sunday school, and said “Daddy, my Sunday school teacher says you and Daddy are sinners!’ What if that child turns on its own parents, just as Hitler youth taught the children to turn against anti-NAZI parents? What about that?

    I once know the first gay adoptive parent in the state of California, and he and his partner literally lived next door to MCC. They didn’t want to chance it.

  • Jack Harris


    I appreciate your comments and I would like to comment on your statement about "Giving Up Rights". I am not really sure why you equate "giving up rights" to your decision to be celibate.

    That is your personal choice and I respect your right to make that choice, it's not going to be something that most GLBT folks are going to be willing to "give up" to end the "Cultural War". I think it's interesting when people of a majority group fight for rights its called patriotic. When a oppressed minority group fights for rights it's called a "cultural war."

    This reminds me of one of my favorite bumper stickers "Well-Behaved Women never make history". In this case I think you are going to find that we are not going to "lay down our arms" until we achieve the same rights as our hetereosexual counterparts.

    And to respond to your quote :

    "If there’s one quality I think characterized Jesus’ life, it was selflessness, the laying down of one’s rights for the sake of others." : It is true that Jesus gave up his life but I am not sure he meant that he wanted entire sector of society to be disenfranchised and to be treated as second class citizens.

    I mean why didn't those pesky women in the early twentieth century just stay in their kitchens where they belonged and stopped fighting for the righ to vote and why didn't that man named Martin Luther King Jr, just mind his own business and not "stir up" those black people. Why didn't they just "lay down their rights"? The same is true for GLBT movement which happens to include a LOT of GLBT Christians and Straight Christian Allies : You are only going to see a continued movement forward for GLBT rights in society and in a lot of churches. So if this has to be called a "cultural war" then I guess it's not going to end anytime soon.

    Sorry for the rant… Jack 🙂

  • Wow, I’m loving the dialogue here!

    Audrey – you are clearly bright, confident, assured, and purposed. Thanks for shining your light amidst the darkness you see. I guess fundamentally where I would differ with you is your call to maintain our own institutions so that we don’t lose our culture. I’m 27, and certainly don’t have the 25 years of experience you mention, so I may be simply ignorant of how today’s gay culture compares with that of the past… I do think there’s something to be said for the safety one feels when you’re surrounded by your gay friends – but I don’t think that sense of security should be restricted to the gay culture. My belief is that both homophobic or conservative people AND liberal LGBT people are missing out on the richness of what we can all learn from each other’s experiences when we cut off the other side.

    In some ways, I envy your upbringing that was eclectic and allowed you to be comfortable in a variety of situations as opposed to feeling tied to one ‘norm,’ which is certainly what my own bubble-like experience growing up taught me. But what I am able to glean from my own upbringing is a deep appreciation for some of the good elements of the conservative church world – yes, I believe there are a few. 🙂 Nonetheless, I agree with you that diversity, variety, being exposed to patterns, viewpoints, traditions radically different from your own is the absolute best catalyst for personal growth & maturing. We become better people when we see life through someone else’s eyes (which is exactly what I believe Jesus did day in & day out). So I strive hard not to set myself up against other people, or to further the idea that there are “sides” (though I recognize there are). I try not to view others as my enemy, because I believe the only common enemy to humanity is a spiritual enemy that would pull us away from God. I believe the closer we get to God, the more important concepts of tolerance (as Andy defines it) and unity become to us. We stop segregating via our differences and instead come together via the unconditional love God demonstrates to us.

    Jack – what great questions. I know it seems so backwards for a gay guy (and I absolutely do identify as gay in all my circles – never merely as someone with a SSA) to want to worship with people who view my identifying as gay as misguided at the least, sinful at the worst. The thing is, in my journey God’s just put people in my life, and me in their lives, who, when asked, would immediately identify as being against the gay agenda, or against gay marriage, or maybe even against gay people in general. But as my conversations with them unfold or a relationship begins to develop, I so often find that in reality they have far more questions than they do answers and ultimately sense that something is wrong with the approach they and their respective churches have taken towards LGBT people. It rarely results in them changing their convictions about gay sex being sinful, but what I have seen change is a shift from the priority they place on that moral issue to a priority placed on relationship, which is, in my opinion, a crucial distinction made clear in the way of Jesus.

    In talking about what might an end to the culture war look like, I’m sure it’s anybody’s guess. But I think I get glimpses of it in my own church (yes, I’ll certainly admit to a bias). 🙂 We are a small non-denominational congregation of about 60 people, 2.5 years old. My best friend is the pastor, a straight married man. I am the worship leader. And there are about 5 other gay people who call the church home (which, in a church of 60 is a whopping 10%!). Overall, I like to describe the church as having traditional doctrine and progressive values. Most of the people in the congregation would ultimately likely tell you they believe gay sex to be wrong. But those same people are some of my closest friends who care deeply for me. And not just because I’m celibate – we have a gay couple in the church, one of whom leads a home group with the blessing of our pastor. We have a lot of ongoing discussion, wrestling, & struggling through the various issues on which some of us disagree. But what binds us together has proven to be stronger than what separates us – placing the priority on taking hold of and living out the way of Jesus. It’s such a beautiful representation to me of grace, which is what keeps me there and keeps me hopeful that there is indeed a way for the church and the LGBT communities to not merely tolerate one another, but do life together with unconditional love to spare.

    As for “giving up rights,” I think it goes back to the idea of sacrifice (which Audrey I believe might differ with me on!). 🙂 Listen, I don’t think celibacy is the right choice for everyone. I don’t even think it’s always the best choice. What I’ve come to believe is that it’s a spiritual gift – something God enables a person to do. But I don’t think God gives the gift without a reason – for me, that reason has turned to be that because I’m able to identify as a celibate gay man, I’m often given a little more credibility, if you will, in the mind of a conservative or traditional Christian when we start a conversation about faith & sexuality. It’s so easy for some Christians to write off the ideas of people they believe are living in sin… sometimes less so when the person has demonstrated clear commitment to something they value. I find it’s often the way to “get my foot in the door” when I hope to have that conversation with someone.

    So, some might call that a right I’ve given up, though I see it as a gift personally. Regardless, I’m certainly a believer in sacrifice. We live in such an entitled society (at least in America), where talk of our personal rights I think has morphed into a rationale for selfish behavior. If there’s one quality I think characterized Jesus’ life, it was selflessness, the laying down of one’s rights for the sake of others. Meekness is something we’ve been discussing in my home group lately. Initially, we all had a knee-jerk reaction against being meek, because we all have a stigma against the idea of being “walked all over” and acquiescing to other people’s opinions at the expense of our true selves. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” doesn’t ring true to an American sensibility.

    But I think we have to give Jesus some credit. As the ultimate bridge-builder, Jesus leveraged meekness and humility to bring people together. There will always be the Pharisees, those with the power, who won’t give up their rights because they’ve become slaves of their own love for that power… But there are so many who will resonate with true humility and personal sacrifice. There are conservative Christians who tow the homophobic line because it’s what they’ve been taught God wants who, when they experience meekness from a gay person, are all to glad for the opportunity to connect with a person who they once perceived as anti-family values, anti-God, an enemy of heaven. There are Christians who are just as tired of the culture war as are many gay people, but until they meet that gay person who is willing to humbly enter into conversation with them rather than pick up their figurative arms while fighting for personal rights.

    I know Andy talks a lot about Christians being the ones who have to own the responsibility of laying down our arms and approaching the gay community in humility, but I believe it works just as well in reverse. I think meekness from a gay person can disarm a defensive Christian at times, too.

  • Audrey, you stated "all evangelicals think the bible condemns gay people". Just not true as stated, too gross of a generalization. Even Andy's book shows a diversity of opinion and belief among evangelicals in regard to how homosexuality is even considered, but I think except for the Fred Phelps' ilk, no one would say that God condemns gay people, and certainly not considered any more sinful than any other sinner, a description which we all fit into. "There is none righteous, no not one."

  • Audrey, you have done a great job of describing how the world works but your outlook ignores the reason why anyone would pursue a spiritual life in the first place (particularly one like Christianity which puts such a huge emphasis on self-denial in this life).

    I know Christians are as much in thrall with power systems as anyone else but perhaps gay men and women choose culturally conservative churches because the "Biblical" teaching there is better – or at least more consistent with their own reading of the Bible.

    I've been out-to-everyone for all of my adult life. When I became a Christian a few years ago I instantly recognized the “spiritual authenticity“ of the more conservative (and yes, culturally homophobic) Christian denominations. Nothing prevents me from joining a gay affirming church. There are plenty nearby and I’m far more familiar with gay culture/people than straight society. The reason I don’t go to a pro-gay church is that they always seem to throw out the entire Bible in pursuit of a 5-star “inclusive” rating.

  • Jon Trouten

    Jeff S: "I think except for the Fred Phelps’ ilk, no one would say that God condemns gay people, and certainly not considered any more sinful than any other sinner, a description which we all fit into. “There is none righteous, no not one.”"

    I disagree. Folks like Pastor Phelps and Pastor Anderson are inflamatory and allow others the opportunity to say, "well at least I'm not as bad as them…", but gay people aren't treated like other sinners. You aren't seeing every Catholic church in Maines passing a second offering to pass a constiutional amendment to prevent divorce, for example, like they just did this past weekend with gays marrying. You don't see conservative Christian churches and political PACs going after any other group with the zeal that they do towards gay people and our families. (And I tentatively include their opposition to abortion to this assertion when I say this)

    Why do they need to bring a public vote up when it comes to gay families and our civil liberties, but they have no inclination about bringing up public votes on other issues like abortion, divorce laws, or other pro-life issues like capital punishment or stem-cell research?

    They don't treat us like other "sinners". And they don't respect the religious liberties of those who legitimately believe that gay families aren't sinful.

  • Jon Trouten

    BTW, I really agree with pretty much everything that Jack Harris wrote in his last post.

  • Jack Harris

    Audrey : I loved your comments. Keep speaking out and searching for your own understanding on who God is! I would ask that you consider the fact that there are a LOT of gay men who are in complete agreement with what you have to say about women and lesbians specifically. Don't write us off just yet! A lot of us get it! Really! 🙂

    Praise God : She is great!

  • Audrey

    Thanks Jack, I sometimes get very discouraged at what often seems to me such rampant sexism among gay men. It seems that gay guys should really get this more, and often are worse. Straight men… well… they aren't really motivated in this direction if they come from conservative churches.

    It just ain't gonna happen. But hey, we need to just state the case, step back, and let god the mother take care of it sometimes 🙂

    P.S. Here is a blog that I think is really interesting from a gay spirituality and gay christian perspective. It has a lot of neat articles, posts, and links to creative lesbian and gay christian stuff. Check it out and enjoy 🙂

  • "What is good about Jesus?"

    LOL – That sums up MCC in one short sweet sentence.

  • Audrey

    Joe S– Why be in a spiritual life? And as for 5-star inclusive rating, this will only matter if “your” star isn’t a part of the institution you are in. If you’re a feminist, then you don’t want to sit in the balcony or have male language define god. If you’re black, then you don’t want racism to be systemic. If you are a gay male couple with a child, you don’t want the “your Daddys are sinners” as part of the structure.

    It’s ok to say that 5-star inclusive doesn’t matter if you’re the group who isn’t being oppressed by the language or culture, but if you want an end to that oppression, and can see the tangible economic effects of male supremacy daily (and believe me I can measure this!), then you need to pay attention to these details.

    Now self-sacrifice is something that men will do in battle, when the ship is going down etc. But self-sacrifice is expected of women on a daily basis. We have to question this concept, and see if it is true christianity or just a bunch of patriarchs wanting power. We have to know this stuff. We have to know, for example, that the Romans killed Jesus, and that Jews are not Christ killers. The Christ killer theology has been around for centuries.
    Read “The Sword of Constintine” by James Carroll, for the full story on this.

    We need to get what is true, and what is just men making stuff up for their own self-aggrandizement. And I can see this in a split second, and if I see it, I don’t want to be in that institution.

    And Jack and Jeff, it is interesting that the gay male community is target number one with all these groups. Why are gay men the number one sinners? Are other groups targets as well? Well, yes, women who go to abortion clinics are targeted by fundamentalist men who picket the clinics, yell things at the women, and I have many lesbian feminist friends who have to be on guard duty. Women who want medical treatment are targeted and abortion doctors are killed by right wing fanatics. The exception? Just a few nut cases? Maybe, but the malestream aspect of fundamentalism itself aids and abets what I call the nut case straight men.

    The guys who killed Matthew Sheppard cited the sin of homosexuality as their reason for that brutal killing.

    What is authentic christianity, what is formed by patriarchal custom? As lesbian feminists, we are coming up with our own answers and our own theology. It is not really dependent on men, although guys would benefit knowing what we know. I meet a lot more gay men who are filled with shame and self-hatred these days than lesbians. I meet a lot more gay men who feel more excluded from mainstream conservative churches, because what they lost was a whole heck of a lot of straight male privilege, and they miss it. Heck, I’d miss my box seats at the game of Chist if I were a guy. And I still meet a lot of gay guys who are just sexual addicts, or out of control, because they are overreacting to their fundamentalist past…acting out if you will. I see this far less in the lesbian community, because we had a long standing feminist critique of christianity going back well over 40 years now. We are just more aware of what is real and what is oppression, and are far more attuned to this.

    That is what each one of us has to find out for herself. No man can explain this to me, I have to take action, do my own reading, and find out what truly is real. I think a lot of lesbians had to go off and create their own house churches and groups, because we were tired of homophobia and sexism.

    Gayness is not a sin. Anyone who says it is is a homophobe. Sorry guys, most things are not sins. This sin stuff, who named it, who controls this ideology?

    Personally, I see no great difference in the goodness of people who profess to be christians and those who don’t. Statistically, christians are the same in America as non-christians, in terms of numbers of crimes committed, and other so-called moral violations. So we have to figure out what this faith really means, and what is enobling about it, and what needs to simply be ignored or rejected as cultural baggage.

    What is good about Jesus? He sides with the oppressed, he has women who are followers and rejects purity codes that discriminate against women.
    He opens his arms to ordinary working class people, and then they get to have greater leadership roles. This tradition continues today. Troy Perry never got a high school degree, but the inspiration of Jesus helped him to found MCC. Lots of working class lesbians in MCC became leaders too.
    We create the miracle of the loaves and the fishes every day if we want to. What was the real miracle? Anyone care to explain? I have an idea I’d like to share about this, but don’t want to over post. Remember guys, for ever word written by an out lesbian, a bazillion other words have been written and published and adored by straight men. Since I am one of the only lesbians here, I have to speak for the other 24 who haven’t showed up.

    So the life of Christ is about this. These are the few things that reveal what christianity does for people. Or at least the potential of this faith.

    But I don’t think either men or straight people can tell me all that much about Jesus anymore. It is my responsibility to educate myself, and also to live a good life… I’m not focused on sin and damnation, I’m focused on what is going to create a better life in many ways.

    Fundamentalism is largely a movement of disenfranchised men worldwide.
    It combines the worst of all male excess, the desire to sexually control women, the desire to kill gay men, the desire to punish and hound people who don’t agree, and it becomes a very well oiled machine to get out the troops to vote or to turn a country into an “Islamic nightmare “state.” That’s all it ever does.

    And Jack, thanks for your comments on “well behaved women never make history” absolutely true. Men don’t like uppity in your face lesbians, that’s for sure. We keep gay men on the ropes too. It is our job to be freedom fighters in every sense of the word. We don’t lay down our arms ever. Maybe men can do this, and I encourage all men to disarm, but us lesbian feminists are still in the war with male supremacy, long after gay men sign up and head on over to the non-five star male language churches. Sorry guys, no deal there. Good luck with it though.

  • Audrey

    I think “What is good about Jesus?” is a very good question for almost all out lesbians to ask. Hey, we know he’s great for the guys, but a male savior for women? We have problems with this concept.

  • Jack Harris

    Joe S : I think thats a pretty broad generalization to make about all MCC Churches. I have attended several MCC churches and in most cases I think you will find that MCC churches are very Christ focused. In fact, if you didn't know better sometimes you would swear you were at a old-fashioned tent revival.

  • Joe_S


    My gripes with MCC are specific to the sexual ethics issue. I know several gay men and women who grew up in conservative Christian communities, did the "struggler" thing for a while, came out as gay and joined a MMC church – only to find the leadership there set absolutely no boundaries on what is acceptable sexual behavior for a Christian (other than the secular based "if it feels good and it's consensual" limit on what is permissible). They weren't expecting Christians to say "It's OK to have an open relationship" or "It's OK to sleep around and have a f-buddy." and do/say the silliest, blasphemous things in church, all in the name of gay “affirmation”.

    Hey ho. What do I know?.

    I think redneck churches are far more interesting than boring, one-dimensional liberal churches.

  • Audrey

    Hard to say Joe about each MCC and how it works. I know that some churches have worse leadership than others. I found gay male culture shocking when I first encountered it, and still find it problematic. Lesbian Christian feminists were simply on a completely different journey. I think the guys struggle with the sex stuff more, because gay male culture was more about sexual liberation than changing society. Lesbians were much more involved with social justice, anti-racist work, rights for workers, child care issues, and equal treatment in the work place issues. Lesbians had to fight just to become ministers in MCC, which in the beginning was sexist, male dominated and discriminatory against all women in church leadership. Can you imagine a bunch of lesbians putting up with that? We don't take well to male bosses or male preachers even. We really don't trust patriarchy in general.

    Since I didn't grow up in a "conservative" protestant church, I really saw MCC as a unique culture, with revival music, charismatic preaching, a very powerful communion ritual, and also a mixture of a lot of denominational traditions. Sexual ethics is not something I ever hear gay men talk about except maybe here now and then. This subject is just over their heads, and there's no point in discussing it with them because they just don't get it.

    All I can say is, we each have a rather unique experience as lesbians and gays, and we have to be more proactive in how we find god or how we become good people. Since conservative christian culture labels us as automatically bad. and doesn't honor us in our authentic relationships, we have to find this out on our own. You just can't trust straight people to get this, and I don't get my spiritual advice from them anyway. We have plenty of very gifted spiritual leaders, teachers, ministers and Christ centered leaders to ask for help when we need it. Many of the older gay men I meet are excellent with great training, some are Jesuit trained and amazing. I'm more inclined to go with the highly educated and highly trained, and less inclined to trust some yo yo from a substandard bible school, who have never lived abroad, never read widely, and is insular. Other people are fine with marginal seminary training with no togh admissions requirements… very common in evangelical seminaries. It's why they don't hire the grads of these places to teach at Harvard or Union or Princeton, for example.

    My partner is an ordained minister in MCC, we both have a very high personal ethical standard, and we believe this is really a good and positive thing. She speaks a couple of languages, is a well trained writer and thinker, and a mystic. Her life with Christ is real, daily and very powerfully authentic, and she sets an example of goodness for me! I don't "struggle" with pornography, because I view it as hate against women, the tortune and degredation of women, and a truly evil industry fueled largely by pimps and male sexual idiocy, to put it bluntly. I don't "struggle" with any sexual anything, I just am happy in my life.

    What I do struggle with is trying to deal with a homophobic world, trying to make a living in a male dominated industry that isn't very nice to women a lot of the time, and also trying to be of service to people who come into my life for a variety of reasons.

    And I'd say that I am looking for highly intelligent cultured people to share insight, spirituality, music, and a real and pasionate life with. More and more, institutional christianity itself is something that I've moved beyond, and I'd rather work one on one with a spiritual director, or have the kind of muse of god lead me. I am concerned that lesbians and gays are treated as full citizens, that we have access to the same medical benefits, social security benefits etc. as straight people, and I don't want to deal with jerky homophobes when my partner is in the hospital. That means hospital chaplins have to be vetted before they are "allowed" into the hospital room to pray for my partner, for example. I must say, my experience with this was very positive, the catholic priest on staff was loving and good, and luckily for me there are loads of gays and lesbians who work in hospitals and informally take care of their tribe, so to speak.

    I am not so wedded to church "authority' figures, and less attached to a specific spiritual tradition. I get as much out of Jewish services as I do Episcopal gay friendly services. If it's rivival and redneck, chances are that's cool too. I'm not that fussy, except again, I will not accept being called a sinner and have my commitment to my partner insulted and degraded by some ignoramous, and I will not accept second class status in language as a woman. Other than that, things are cool as they say 🙂

  • Andrew ~ What a healing definition! Thank you so much! This applies to everything throughout culture. May God bless you!